There are podcasts and blog posts alike on the many nuances of The Bluebook. But first, what even is The Bluebook? Calling all 1Ls—this is your bare bones introduction to navigating The Bluebook. So grab your Bluebook and follow along!
If you haven’t even purchased The Bluebook yet, your first task is to ensure that you get the most updated edition. Every so often, a new Bluebook is released, and it usually isn’t a complete overhaul of the rules, but some rules do change. So, staying up to date on the current edition will guarantee that you’re applying the current rules.
Bluepages vs. Whitepages
If you look at the fore-edge of your Bluebook, you’ll notice lovely shades of blue and white. Are the editors of The Bluebook budding creatives? Well, maybe—but the color-coded pages are not just for the aesthetic. The light blue pages, simply referred to as the Bluepages, are a guide for practitioners citing authorities in non-academic legal documents. So, unless instructed otherwise, practitioners, law clerks, and any other legal professionals outside of academia—you likely want to be in the Bluepages. Then we have the Whitepages. The Whitepages are the bulk of The Bluebook, as they serve as a comprehensive guide to the rules of citation and style—whereas the Bluepages are intended more as quick guidance for everyday use by practitioners. The Whitepages consist of twenty-one rules that provide instructions on when and how to cite authorities. And finally, we have the dark blue pages—those are the tables. Certain rules throughout The Bluebook will direct you to a table for more information, and this is where you’ll find them.
The Bluebook Online
Now that you know the different parts of The Bluebook, let’s talk about the online version of The Bluebook. The print version is great for reasons I’ll discuss, but the online version brings a host of benefits as well—the most exciting of which is that it is searchable. No more are the days of searching your Bluebook for an hour, looking for an obscure rule that you just know is in there. You can simply type it into the search bar and take back your remaining fifty-nine minutes. Another great thing about the online version is how easily you can navigate between sections of The Bluebook. Even if you know exactly where a rule is, it still might take you a minute to flip there. The online version has a sidebar that allows you to quickly toggle between rules.
Although the rules in your hard copy of The Bluebook aren’t one click away, there is a way to make searching a bit easier—tabs! You’ve probably heard this tip before, but here’s something that’ll change your life: durable tabs. You are going to be using The Bluebook for a long time. It’s going to be tossed around in your backpack or in the back of your car. And those perfect paper tabs are going to end up looking like this:
They are going to rip and fade until you have to tab your Bluebook all over again. If you use durable tabs the first time, you won’t have to do it again until the next edition of The Bluebook is released.
At a minimum, I recommend tabbing each rule. If you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and tab any page you think you’ll be navigating to frequently—perhaps your state’s page in table T1.3.
Now here’s why I love the hard copy of The Bluebook—some law journals have style guides to accompany The Bluebook. They have their own way of doing things that either changes or adds on to a Bluebook rule. In order to remember which rules are modified by the style guide, I place index cards in front of each rule mentioned in the style guide like so:
As you’ll see, I write a quick note about what’s addressed in the style guide, as well as the style guide page numbers, so when I flip to a rule, I am notified immediately that I also have to consult the style guide and where to find the changes.
As you become more familiar with The Bluebook, you’ll notice that it does not cover every possible question that will arise during your citation journey. But the examples will get you pretty far. Under each rule in The Bluebook, there are lists of examples of the correct and incorrect citation form. Sometimes those examples answer a question that the explanation may not, whether it’s how to abbreviate a specific reporter or how to cite the Taft-Hartley Act. So before you go to your TA, professor, or journal editor about the shortcomings of The Bluebook, check the examples!
Finally, if you’re still following along in your Bluebook, I want you to open up the front cover. These are quick examples of commonly used citation forms in academic footnotes that will come in handy whether you just need a refresher or you’re in a bind for time. Now open up to the back cover of your Bluebook—there you’ll find quick examples of commonly used citation forms in court documents and legal memoranda. Both are great tools for a brief overview of citations.
Now that you know what The Bluebook is, you can begin your mastery in time for your 1L legal writing class or the impending journal write-on competition waiting for you at the end of your first year. Happy Bluebooking!
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